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A grisette is something else beside a “mean girl” or a “gray
gown,” the French dictionary to the contrary notwithstanding.
Bless me! you should see the grisettes of Rochepot! And if
you wished to take a lesson in political compacts, you should understand
the grisette confederacy of Rochepot! They were
working-girls, it is true—dressmakers, milliners, shoebinders,
tailoresses, flowermakers, embroideresses—and they never expected
to be anything more aristocratic. And in that content lay
their power.

The grisettes of Rochepot were a good fourth of the female
population. They had their jealousies, and little scandals, and
heart-burnings, and plottings, and counterplottings (for they were
women) among themselves. But they made common cause
against the enemy. They would bear no disparagement. They
knew exactly what was due to them, and what was due to their
superiors, and they paid and gave credit in the coin of good-manners,
as cannot be done in countries of “liberty and equality.”
Still there were little shades of difference in the attention shown
them by their employers, and they worked twice as much in a day


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when sewing for Madame Durozel, who took her dinner with them,
sans façon in the work-room, as for old Madame Chiquette, who
dined all alone in her grand saloon, and left them to eat by themselves
among their shreds and scissors. But these were not slights
which they seriously resented. Woe only to the incautious dame
who dared to scandalize one of their number, or dispute her dues,
or encroach upon her privileges! They would make Rochepot as
uncomfortable for her, parbleu! as a kettle to a slow-boiled lobster.

But the prettiest grisette of Rochepot was not often permitted
to join her companions in their self-chaperoned excursions on the
holydays. Old dame Pomponney was the sexton's widow, and
she had the care of the great clock of St. Roch, and of one only
daughter; and excellent care she took of both her charges.
They lived all three in the belfry—dame, clock, and daughter—and
it was a bright day for Thénais when she got out of
hearing of that “tick, tick, tick,” and of the thumping of her
mother's cane on the long staircase, which always kept time with it.

Not that old Dame Pomponney had any objection to have her
daughter convenably married. She had been deceived in her
youth (or so it was whispered) by a lover above her condition,
and she vowed by the cross on her cane, that her daughter should
have no sweetheart above a journeyman mechanic. Now the
romance of the grisettes (parlons bas!) was to have one charming
little flirtation with a gentleman before they married the
leather-apron—just to show that, had they by chance been born
ladies, they could have played their part to the taste of their
lords. But it was at this game that Dame Pomponney had burnt
her fingers, and she had this one subject for the exercise of her
powers of mortal aversion.


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When I have added that, four miles from Rochepot, stood
the Château de Brevanne, and that the old Count de Brevanne
was a proud aristocrat of the ancien regimé, with one son, the
young Count Felix, whom he had educated at Paris, I think I
have prepared you tolerably for the little romance I have to tell

It was a fine Sunday morning that a mounted hussar appeared
in the street of Rochepot. The grisettes were all abroad in their
holyday parure, and the gay soldier soon made an acquaintance
with one of them at the door of the inn, and informed her that he
had been sent on to prepare the old barracks for his troop. The
hussars were to be quartered a month at Rochepot. Ah! what
a joyous bit of news! And six officers beside the colonel! And
the trumpeters were miracles at playing quadrilles and waltzes!
And not a plain man in the regiment—except always the speaker.
And none, except the old colonel, had ever been in love in his
life. But as this last fact required to be sworn to, of course he
was ready to kiss the book—or, in the absence of the book, the
next most sacred object of his adoration.

Finissez donc, Monsieur!” exclaimed his pretty listener, and
away she ran to spread the welcome intelligence with its delightful

The next day the troop rode into Rochepot, and formed in the
great square in front of St. Roch; and by the time the trumpeters
had played themselves red in the face, the hussars were all appropriated,
to a man—for the grisettes knew enough of a marching
regiment to lose no time. They all found leisure to pity poor
Thénais, however, for there she stood in one of the high windows
of the belfry, looking down on the gay crowd below, and they
knew very well that old Dame Pomponney had declared all


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soldiers to be gay deceivers, and forbidden her daughter to stir
into the street while they were quartered at Rochepot.

Of course the grisettes managed to agree as to each other's selection
of a sweetheart from the troop, and of course each hussar
thankfully accepted the pair of eyes that fell to him. For, aside
from the limited duration of their stay, soldiers are philosophers,
and know that “life is short,” and it is better “to take the goods
the gods provide.” But “after everybody was helped,” as they
say at a feast, there appeared another short jacket and foraging
cap, very much to the relief of red-headed Susette, the shoebinder,
who had been left out in the previous allotment. And
Susette made the amiable accordingly, but to no purpose, for the
lad seemed an idiot with but one idea—looking for ever at
St. Roch's clock to know the time of day! The grisettes
laughed and asked their sweethearts his name, but they significantly
pointed to their foreheads and whispered something about
poor Robertin's being a privileged follower of the regiment and a
protegé of the colonel.

Well, the grisettes flirted, and the old clock at St. Roch
ticked on, and Susette and Thénais, the plainest and the prettiest
girl in the village, seemed the only two who were left out in the
extra dispensation of lovers. And poor Robertin still persisted
in occupying most of his leisure with watching the time of day.

It was on the Sunday morning after the arrival of the troop
that old Dame Pomponney went up, as usual, to do her Sunday's
duty in winding up the clock. She had previously locked the
belfry door to be sure that no one entered below while she was
above; but—the Virgin help us!—on the top stair, gazing into
the machinery of the clock with absorbed attention, sat one of
those devils of hussars! “Thief,” “vagabond,” and “house-breaker,”


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were the most moderate epithets with which Dame
Pomponney accompanied the enraged beating of her stick on the
resounding platform. She was almost beside herself with rage.
And Thénais had been up to dust the wheels of the clock! And
how did she know that that scélérat of a trooper was not there
all the time!

But the intruder, whose face had been concealed till now,
turned suddenly round and began to gibber and grin like a possessed
monkey. He pointed at the clock, imitated the “tick,
tick, tick,” laughed till the big bell gave out an echo like a groan,
and then suddenly jumped over the old dame's stick and ran down

Eh, Sainte Vierge!” exclaimed the old dame, “it's a poor
idiot after all! And he has stolen up to see what made the clock
tick! Ha! ha! ha! Well!—well! I cannot come up these
weary stairs twice a day, and I must wind up the clock before I
go down to let him out. `Tick, tick, tick!'—poor lad! poor
lad! They must have dressed him up to make fun of him—
those vicious troopers! Well!—well!”

And with pity in her heart, Dame Pomponney hobbled down,
stair after stair, to her chamber in the square turret of the belfry,
and there she found the poor idiot on his knees before Thénais,
and Thénais was just preparing to put a skein of thread over his
thumbs, for she thought she might make him useful and amuse
him with the winding of it till her mother came down. But as
the thread got vexatiously entangled, and the poor lad sat as patiently
as a wooden reel, and it was time to go below to mass, the
dame thought she might as well leave him there till she came
back, and down she stumped, locking the door very safely behind


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Poor Thénais was very lonely in the belfry, and Dame Pomponney,
who had a tender heart where her duty was not involved,
rather rejoiced when she returned, to find an unusual glow of delight
on her daughter's cheek; and if Thénais could find so much
pleasure in the society of a poor idiot lad, it was a sign, too, that
her heart was not gone altogether after those abominable troopers.
It was time to send the innocent youth about his business,
however, so she gave him a holyday cake and led him down stairs
and dismissed him with a pat on his back and a strict injunction
never to venture again up to the “tick, tick, tick.” But as she
had had a lesson as to the accessibility of her bird's nest, she
determined thenceforth to lock the door invariably and carry the
key in her pocket.

While poor Robertin was occupied with his researches into
the “tick, tick, tick,” never absent a day from the neighborhood
of the tower, the more fortunate hussars were planning to give
the grisettes a fete champétre. One of the saints' days was coming
round, and, the weather permitting, all the vehicles of the
village were to be levied, and, with the troop-horses in harness,
they were to drive to a small wooded valley in the neighborhood
of the château de Brevanne, where seclusion and a mossy carpet
of grass were combined in a little paradise for such enjoyment.

The morning of this merry day dawned, at last, and the grisettes
and theirad mirers were stirring betimes, for they were to
breakfast sur l'herbe, and they were not the people to turn breakfast
into dinner. The sky was clear, and the dew was not very
heavy on the grass, and merrily the vehicles rattled about the
town, picking up their fair freights from its obscurest corners.
But poor Thénais looked out, a sad prisoner, from her high window
in the belfry.


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It was a half hour after sunrise and Dame Pomponney was
creeping up stairs after her matins, thanking Heaven that she
had been firm in her refusals—at least twenty of the grisettes
having gathered about her, and pleaded for a day's freedom for
her imprisoned daughter. She rested on the last landing but one
to take a little breath—but hark!—a man's voice talking in the
belfry! She listened again, and quietly slipped her feet out of
her high-heeled shoes. The voice was again audible—yet how
could it be! She knew that no one could have passed up the
stair, for the key had been kept in her pocket more carefully
than usual, and, save by the wings of one of her own pigeons,
the belfry window was inaccessible, she was sure. Still the voice
went on in a kind of pleading murmur, and the dame stole softly
up in her stockings, and noiselessly opened the door. There
stood Thénais at the window, but she was alone in the room.
At the same instant the voice was heard again, and sure now
that one of those desperate hussars had climbed the tower, and
unable to control her rage at the audacity of the attempt, Dame
Pomponney clutched her cane and rushed forward to aim a blow
at the military cap now visible at the sill of the window. But
at the same instant the head of the intruder was thrown back,
and the gibbering and idiotic smile of poor Robertin checked
her blow in its descent, and turned all her anger into pity.
Poor, silly lad! he had contrived to draw up the garden ladder
and place it upon the roof of the stone porch below, to climb
and offer a flower to Thénais! Not unwilling to have her daughter's
mind occupied with some other thought than the forbidden
excursion, the dame offered her hand to Robertin and drew him
gently in at the window. And as it was now market-time she


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bid Thénais be kind to the poor boy, and locking the door behind
her, trudged contentedly off with her stick and basket.

I am sorry to be obliged to record an act of filial disobedience
in the heroine of my story. An hour after, Thénais was welcomed
with acclamations as she suddenly appeared with Robertin
in the midst of the merry party of grisettes. With Robertin—
not as he had hitherto been seen, his cap on the back of his head
and his under lip hanging loose like an idiot's—but with Robertin,
gallant, spirited, and gay, the handsomest of hussars, and the
most joyous of companions. And Thénais, spite of her hasty
toilet and the cloud of conscious disobedience which now and then
shaded her sweet smile, was, by many degrees, the belle of the
hour; and the palm of beauty, for once in the world at least,
was yielded without envy. The grisettes dearly love a bit of
romance, too, and the circumventing of old Dame Pomponney by
his ruse of idiocy, and the safe extrication of the prettiest girl of
the village from that gloomy old tower, was quite enough to make
Robertin a hero, and his sweetheart Thénais more interesting
than a persecuted princess.

And, seated on the ground while their glittering cavaliers
served them with breakfast, the light-hearted grisettes of Rochepot
were happy enough to be envied by their betters. But suddenly
the sky darkened, and a slight gust murmuring among the trees,
announced the coming up of a summer storm. Sauve qui peut!
The soldiers were used to emergencies, and they had packed up
and reloaded their cars and were under way for shelter almost as
soon as the grisettes, and away they all fled toward the nearest
grange—one of the dependencies of the château de Brevanne.

But Robertin, now, had suddenly become the director and ruling
spirit of the festivities. The soldiers treated him with instinctive


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deference, the old farmer of the grange hurried out with
his keys and unlocked the great storehouse, and disposed of the
horses under shelter; and by the time the big drops began to
fall, the party were dancing gayly and securely on the dry and
smooth thrashing-floor, and the merry harmony of the martial
trumpets and horns rang out far and wide through the gathering

The rain began to come down very heavily, and the clatter of
a horse's feet in a rapid gallop was heard in one of the pauses in
the waltz. Some one seeking shelter, no doubt. On went the
bewitching music again, and at this moment two or three couples
ceased waltzing, and the floor was left to Robertin and Thénais,
whose graceful motions drew all eyes upon them in admiration.
Smiling in each other's faces, and wholly unconscious of any
other presence than their own, they whirled blissfully around—
but there was now another spectator. The horseman who had
been heard to approach, had silently joined the party, and making
a courteous gesture to signify that the dancing was not to be
interrupted, he smiled back the courtesies of the pretty grisettes
—for, aristocratic as he was, he was a polite man to the sex, was
the Count de Brevanne.

“Felix!” he suddenly cried out, in a tone of surprise and anger.

The music stopped at that imperative call, and Robertin turned
his eyes, astonished, in the direction from which it came.

The name was repeated from lip to lip among the grisettes,
“Felix!” “Count Felix de Brevanne!”

But without deigning another word, the old man pointed with
his riding-whip to the farm-house. The disguised count respectfully


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bowed his head, but held Thénais by the hand and drew her
gently with him.

“Leave her! disobedient boy!” exclaimed the father.

But as Count Felix tightened his hold upon the small hand he
held, and Thénais tried to shrink back from the advancing old
man, old Dame Pomponney, streaming with rain, broke in unexpectedly
upon the scene.

“Disgrace not your blood,” said the Count de Brevanne at that

The offending couple stood alone in the centre of the floor, and
the dame comprehended that her daughter was disparaged.

“And who is disgraced by dancing with my daughter?” she
screamed with furious gesticulation.

The old noble made no answer, but the grisettes, in an under
tone, murmured the name of Count Felix!

“Is it he—the changeling! the son of a poor gardener, that is
disgraced by the touch of my daughter?”

A dead silence followed this astounding exclamation. The old
dame had forgotten herself in her rage, and she looked about
with a terrified bewilderment—but the mischief was done. The
old man stood aghast. Count Felix clung still closer to Thénais,
but his face expressed the most eager inquisitiveness. The grisettes
gathered around Dame Pomponney, and the old count, left
standing and alone, suddenly drew his cloak about him and stepped
forth into the rain; and in another moment his horse's feet
were heard clattering away in the direction of the château de

We have but to tell the sequol.

The incautious revelation of the old dame turned out to be
true. The dying infant daughter of the Marchioness de Brevanne


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had been changed for the healthy son of the count's gardener, to
secure an heir to the name and estates of the nearly extinct family
of Brevanne. Dame Pomponney had assisted in this secret,
and but for her heart full of rage at the moment, to which the
old count's taunt was but the last drop, the secret would probably
have never been revealod. Count Felix, who had played truant
from his college at Paris, to come and hunt up some of his childish
playfellows, in disguise, had remembered and disclosed himself
to the little Thénais, who was not sorry to recognize him,
while he played the idiot in the belfry. But of course there was
now no obstacle to their union, and united they were. The old
count pardoned him, and gave the new couple a portion of his
estate, and they named their first child Robertin, as was natural